There's something comforting about performing menial tasks. When you've done something enough that muscle memory takes over and you can do anything else at the same time. Back when I had a garden, I'd write articles in my head while doing so. I listen to podcasts while washing dishes or walking to the store.
SnowRunner is like the digital version of that feeling. It's incredibly complex at times, nearing the level of a simulation, but it's also oddly relaxing. Sure, there are a lot of choices involving the trucks you use and how you drive through certain terrain, but the overall pace is slow. You're not getting anywhere too quick, instead just moseying your way through mud, snow, and water. It's about struggling through rough terrain while you watch a YouTube video.
I've never played any of the various simulator games that have their own hardcore niche communities. I've been vaguely aware of them all—Microsoft Flight Simulator, American Truck Simulator, Farming Simulator, Train Simulator—but I've never made time for any of them. I don't care about those industries enough to want a pitch-perfect version of them. SnowRunner is a mix of a truck simulator and an arcade racer; I'm sure it's cutting something out of a meatier sim, but you also can't go careening through the countryside without messing up your engine and suspension.
SnowRunner starts you off in the decidedly snowless countryside of Michigan, giving a glimpse of the game's core loop. You find Watchtowers to reveal more of the map, explore the wilds to find more parts and vehicles, and deliver stuff from place to place. The meat is figuring out how you get those deliveries done. The starting vehicle, a Chevrolet CK1500, gets you acquainted with the basics: switching to all-wheel drive, changing to low gear, or attaching your winch to pull you out of a messy spot. And then it parcels out some difficulties. Here's a small river. Here's a deep mud pit. Here's a road that's a little muddy, you probably can ease off the all wheel drive and conserve some fuel.
Then it starts to get tricky. That starting truck won't haul as much as the next flatbed rig, meaning you can't haul as many materials. But that rig is built for riding on standard roads or those with only light mud. Its suspension isn't high enough to ford a deep river without ruining the engine, and if you get stuck, you'll probably have to get one of your other trucks and tow that sucker out. Hell, running a big rig through a muddy section only increases the deepness of the ruts, making it harder on the return trip.
So you'll have to become close personal friends with all of the trucks available in SnowRunner. They're all real brands—Ford, Chevrolet, General Motors, and Caterpillar are all here—and there's a host of customization options. The color options aren't as robust as Forza Horizon or another racing game, but there are visual customizations like bumpers, lights, and rims alongside performance choices like engines, tires, and gearbox. And as I said before, the latter all matter when it comes to getting across terrain. While you're making your way through the environment, you'll also find more watchtowers, vehicles, and parts, really selling the feeling of exploration.
At its core, SnowRunner is just a delivery game, but the act of delivery is slow and steady. It honestly reminds me a great deal of Kojima Productions' Death Stranding, where every path must be charted with care and you have to acknowledge every little obstacle in front of you. It's about persistence and adaptation. Like Death Stranding, I'm utterly engrossed in the act of delivery. There's a certain zen to rolling slowly through the countryside, whether that's in a foggy night in Michigan, a frigid river in Alaska, or the rolling forests of Taymyr. Sure, there's frustration at times when you misjudge a path and find yourself stuck, but every obstacle is manageable.
I was working my way through the latest episodes of Kim's Convenience at the same time my truck was slowly forging through a snowback in Alaska. I stopped for a brief moment and my partner turned to me and said, "You look relaxed." And I was. I wrote before that I found solace in the endless, slow deliveries of Death Stranding, and is SnowRunner definitely hitting that same vibe.
It's menial digital work, but also wonderfully fulfilling. Pantomiming a Ford-150 commercial—minus the county music and the car manufacturer assuring you that you too can haul all this stuff even though you live in the suburbs—is not something that I thought I'd enjoy, but alas, here I am. I don't know if I'll stick with SnowRunner in the long term, but for right now, it's definitely the busy work I want to do.